By Rjay Zuriaga Castor

PHOTO: Tatler PH

MANILA, Philippines– President Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law the "Doctor Para sa Bayan Act" or Republic Act 11509, a measure that will establish a scholarship program for poor students aspiring to become doctors.

On 23 December 2020, President Duterte has signed the bill which seeks to grant scholarships for deserving medical students to address the need for more Filipino doctors in the country, a concern which was highlighted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

This was later confirmed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, in which he revealed in a text message to reporters on Monday, said he just received from Malacañang the signed copy of RA 11509.

The new law seeks to provide a medical scholarship and return service program for “deserving Filipino students” in state universities and colleges (SUCs) and in partner private higher education institutions (PHEIs) in regions with no SUCs offering medicine.

It seeks to encourage students to take up medicine and help improve the country’s doctor-patient ratio. Furthermore, to “ensure, or to achieve, the goal of assigning of at least one doctor for every municipality in the country.”

The medical scholarship shall cover free tuition and other school fees, allowance for prescribed books, supplies and equipment, as well as clothing or uniform allowance.

It shall also include allowance for dormitory or boarding house accommodation, transportation allowance, internship fees, medical board review fees, and licensure fees.

The program shall also cover annual medical insurance and other education-related miscellaneous subsistence or living expense.

The measure sets conditions on scholarship grant such as the requirements for scholars to finish the entire Doctor of Medicine Program within the prescribed time frame and will “eventually render services in government hospitals in their hometown or in any municipality in their home province or in any underserved municipality” as part of their integration into the public health and medical service system.

Should a beneficiary refuse to comply with the mandatory return service, the bill will impose sanctions, including the payment equivalent to twice the full cost of the scholarship expenses.

Qualified applicants from municipalities without government physicians shall be prioritized in the allocation of scholarship slots to ensure the assignment of at least one doctor for every municipality in the country, according to the law.

An applicant must be a Filipino citizen residing in the Philippines, graduating student or a graduate of an appropriate undergraduate program identified as a prerequisite for a Doctor of Medicine degree from a university or college recognized by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

The applicant should also obtain a National Medical Admission Test score mandated by CHED, along with other requirements.

The scholar who fails to pass the licensure examination within one year after graduation and completion of the mandatory internship and other academic requirements shall shoulder all the necessary expenses for the succeeding professional licensure examinations, according to the law.

Under the measure, the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) is “mandated to streamline the requirements for the application for authority to offer Doctor of Medicine Program.”

The CHEd is also tasked to strengthen the partnership between SUCs and DOH hospitals to increase the number of medical schools throughout the country with one region having at least one state-operated medical school in the next five years.